The Buckingham Rebellion

The Buckingham Rebellion and Dissensions Amongst the Yorkist Nobility 1483

This is a very complex series of intertwined events, with influences stretching back in time and across much of England and into northern Europe. Only an outline can be presented here. You will find much more detail in the suggestions for further reading.

The ‘Buckingham Rebellion’ of October 1483 against Richard III was more than just one man and his army. It was a concerted attempt by Lancastrians and Yorkists to unseat Richard, Duke of Gloucester, recently crowned as Richard III, and place Henry Tudor on the throne, two years before this aim was eventually achieved. 

The Duke of Buckingham was the highest profile casualty of the failed uprising, which could with some justification be named the ‘Beaufort’ Rebellion. For her part, Margaret Beaufort was held to account by an Act of Parliament, lost control of her property and was placed under house arrest, albeit with her husband Thomas Stanley. But for her gender and the importance of her husband, she might have been executed.

We do not have access to all the communications that must have been going on in secret, but the extent of rebellions across the South of England imply there must have been a high degree of co-ordination. The key conspirators appear to have been Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, Elizabeth Woodville, mother of both the Princes in the Tower and of Elizabeth of York, Henry’s future Queen, and Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. Many others were involved of whom a few are described here.

We know that all three were in Westminster during April to July 1483: Lady Margaret and Buckingham had principal roles in Richard’s Coronation on 6th  July and Elizabeth Woodville was in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey from 1st May, having been awaiting the arrival of her son Edward V since her husband’s death on 9th April. Since 29th April, when Richard met with Edward V’s escort at Northampton, Buckingham had been in daily attendance with Richard and was his principal supporter during the succession crisis of the next two months. Whatever discussions took place between Richard and Buckingham on the night of 29th April which led to the arrest of the Queen’s brother, Anthony, Earl Rivers, and her son Sir Richard Grey, the following morning and their subsequent execution, they set off a train of events which led eventually to Richard’s defeat at Bosworth long after Buckingham had left the stage.

Let’s consider each of the main players, their backstory and their motives for opposing Richard in October. Their ages at April 1483 are given for some context.

Lady Margaret Beaufort (aged about 40)

Descended from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt from his mistress Katherine Swynford, later his third wife, her ancestors had been legitimized by both Parliament and the Pope but barred from the line of succession to the throne. Her only son, Henry (b. 1457) , from her first husband Edmund Tudor (half-brother to King Henry VI) carried an extra dose of royal blood, albeit from his French grandmother, Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V.

Margaret was one of the richest women in England and this money gave her tremendous power amongst the nobility. She had remarried only months after Henry was born and seems to have seen little of him in his childhood, especially after Edward IV granted Henry’s wardship to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke in 1462.

When Edward was deposed (temporarily in October 1470) Margaret took the bold step of taking her thirteen year old son to meet King Henry VI during his ‘readeption’. This action placed both mother and son publicly and firmly into the Lancastrian camp so that when Edward returned from exile the following year, comprehensively defeated Lancastrian armies and eliminated both Henry VI and his son, a ‘plan B’ was needed.

Margaret arranged for Henry to be taken by his uncle Jasper Tudor to Brittany and he remained in exile for the next fourteen years until his return in August 1485. During this time mother and son communicated by letter which could take days each way given the unreliable and often stormy weather in the English Channel. She sent him money, and had the means to fund an invasion fleet. This was treasonous behaviour on her part, so had to be kept very quiet.

Edward IV negotiated with the Duke of Brittany to have Henry returned to England where he could be either controlled or eliminated but was unsuccessful.

At Richard and Anne’s Coronation, Margaret, Countesss of Richmond and herself of royal blood, carried the Queen’s train into Westminster Abbey, a high honour. But she may already have put in train a plot to bring them down.

Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) (age mid-forties) & family

Elizabeth had secretly married Edward IV in 1464, presumably aware of his previous reputation as a womaniser. The marriage was apparently legal, in the presence of witnesses, but kept secret from the Court for several months. Elizabeth was crowned queen the following year. She was not well received by the nobility as a suitable queen, being regarded as the daughter of a minor lord rather than of the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, her mother. She was also a subject of the king, rather than a foreign princess who could have brought much needed money, plus a political and military alliance of benefit to the realm.

She had thirteen siblings and in due course produced a total of ten children with Edward. Her siblings married into some of the richest and most powerful families in England, creating jealously amongst some Yorkist supporters who might have had such aspirations for themselves. Her father was promoted to an earldom (Rivers) and given important posts in government which stoked further envy. Many in the ‘old nobility’ regarded the Woodville clan as social climbers and would not have been sorry to see them taken down a peg or three.

When Edward was temporarily deposed by the earl of Warwick in October 1470, the queen took her family into sanctuary at the Abbot’s house within the grounds of Westminster Abbey where she felt safe from physical harm. Her son, the future Edward V was born there. Edward IV was restored to the throne in April the following year and she came out of sanctuary. She was to use this sanctuary again in May 1483 when she felt under threat from Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

Whilst still a toddler, young Edward was set up with his own household at Ludlow Castle in Wales, as was traditional for the prince of Wales. His guardian and principal tutor was the queen’s brother, Anthony, Earl Rivers (age early 40’s in 1483).

We can only speculate why this crucial role was given to one of the queen’s family rather than a senior blood relative of the king. George, Duke of Clarence, the King’s middle brother was proving to be unstable and unreliable, Richard was too valuable to take him away from the North and other key roles, most of the surviving Yorkists were either too young or female and therefore not able to oversee the education of a Prince. Inevitably a close bond grew up between young Edward and his uncle.

On Edward IV’s death, his son Edward automatically became king the next day, but the ceremony of coronation was required to give him full powers in the eyes of Parliament.

As he was only twelve years of age there was a discussion to be had by the king’s Council whether he was old enough to be crowned or whether there should be a period of minority government with either a Protector or a Regency or a Council to govern England. From what we know, the Council met frequently during April 1483 and decided on 4th May  for the coronation, without even consulting Richard, who was in York and, as the senior male Yorkist, was the natural choice for Protector. According to one visitor to London, Edward IV had given instructions in his will about how the country should be governed after his death and these were ignored. Unfortunately this will does not survive. (It would not have been legally binding regarding governance).

One decision of the Council was to  appoint the Queen’s brother, Sir Edward Woodville as Admiral of the fleet in charge of all the king’s ships, to guard the coast against a possible French invasion – normal practice on the death of a king. He took a large force of men to sea with him and this used up a large proportion of the royal cash reserve: sailors have to be paid to go to sea.

Elizabeth took no part in Richard and Anne’s Coronation but she and her daughters could presumably hear the ceremony from her sanctuary in the Abbot’s house, which would have felt like a kick in the stomach. But she may by now have had hopes that a plan was developing to depose Richard and replace him either with her son Edward or with Margaret Beaufort’s son Henry. It seems that during the course of the Summer of 1483, Henry Tudor emerged as the only realistic candidate to replace Richard. You may speculate why Edward V no longer featured in their plans. Was he dead, as contemporaries, (and Shakespeare) believed or had he been spirited away to a safer place as some modern Ricardians believe?

Duke of Buckingham (aged 27)

Henry Stafford was also descended from Edward III, but through his fifth son, Thomas, via a female, and so represented a junior branch of the royal family compared to the principal Lancastrian and Yorkist claimants. Nevertheless he may at some time have had aspirations to the throne even though many others with stronger claims stood ahead in the line of succession.

At the age of ten he had been married, not unusual in the nobility, to one of the queen’s sisters. He was very much the most eligible of the grooms that the Woodvilles sought to bring into their extended family circle after Elizabeth’s marriage. By 1483 he rather resented this ‘forced’ marriage, although he had enjoyed her company enough to produce four children.

Whilst nominally a Woodville, he quickly sided with Richard after Edward IV’s death and seems to have been very persuasive in turning Richard against the Woodvilles, if Richard needed encouragement.

On April 29th when Richard & Buckingham met with Rivers, after an apparently convivial evening’s drinking, a dramatic change occurred overnight. We can only speculate what Buckingham’s influence was on Richard, but the outcome was the arrest of Rivers and his nephew, Sir Richard Grey and then to take charge of Edward V. The explanation offered was that Rivers had been a bad influence on both Edwards (father and son) and that a coup was planned when the company arrived in Westminster. The latter may have been a valid interpretation of the situation. Richard’s authority was such that he was able to dismiss Edward V’s considerable escort of perhaps two thousand men and send them back to Wales, replacing them with his own men from York. 

After Richard was accepted as Protector, he petitioned the Council to have Rivers and Richard Grey executed for treason against him. It was pointed out that, when he arrested Rivers, Richard had not yet been formally appointed Protector so the charge of treason could not apply. In late June, the execution went ahead anyway on Richard’s authority.

As a senior peer in England, Buckingham naturally took a seat on the Council and it was at one of these meetings (13th June)  that Richard made another very sudden and shocking move by ordering the arrest and execution of William, Lord Hastings who had been a loyal supporter of Edward IV. It may be that Hastings was so loyal to Edward’s memory that, despite arguing for a Protectorate under Richard, he preferred to see Edward V crowned rather than Richard. This happened just over a week before the alleged bastardy of the Princes was made public. We do not know when  Bishop Stillington made his bombshell announcement to the Council but this could have been a factor in Hastings’ demise if the latter argued against this single piece of evidence, albeit from a Bishop, to retain Edward V in the line of succession.

Buckingham now took a leading role in spreading the word that not only Edward V was a bastard but that King Edward IV may have been a bastard too. This latter piece of information had been put about by others years earlier, effectively accusing Cecily, Duchess of York, of being an adulteress, but by 1483 this was regarded as just rumour and speculation.

Buckingham’s claims were not given much credence at first, but gradually the belief took hold that Edward V, his brother and all his sisters were illegitimate.

Buckingham helped to steer Parliament to make this situation legal and Richard was formally offered the Crown on 6th June. Now Buckingham pressed Richard for the settlement of lands on him. Richard did give Buckingham extensive lands in Wales but not everything that he asked for.

Buckingham put himself in charge of arrangements for Richard’s coronation and carried the king’s train into Westminster Abbey, a high honour. 

After the coronation and on the royal progress, Buckingham left Richard at Gloucester in early August to proceed to his castle at Brecknock (Brecon) to join Bishop Morton who was under house arrest there.

It appears that Morton persuaded Buckingham fairly quickly that a usurpation of Richard III was not only possible but was actually being planned. Together they contacted Margaret Beaufort and were included in the circle of plotters which was already growing in the south of England. By late September we know that Buckingham was writing directly to Henry Tudor in France.

The full extent of the co-ordinated rebellion can be gauged from this passage in Horrox:

Insurrections would break out simultaneously in the southern counties from Maidstone and Guildford through Newbury and Salisbury to Exeter. The men of Kent and Surrey would seize, or at least threaten, London. The men of Devon and Dorset would march eastward. Henry Tudor, with a stout force supplied by the Duke of Brittany, would land on the south coast. And the Duke of Buckingham would cross the Severn at the head of his host (of men) and advance south-eastwards to close a mighty vise (vice) upon the hapless King RichardThe date on which each of these multiple actions should begin was set for Saturday, October 18.’

With such an extensive plan, some communications must have fallen into the wrong hands. Richard heard of the plan when he was in Lincoln on 11th or 12th October. The Duke of Norfolk knew sooner when the rising in Kent began on the 10th and he was able to stop that from growing. 

Richard III (age 30)

By 8th May Richard was being formally acknowledged as Protector of the Realm, a role his father had held several times during the 1450’s. It must have been a proud moment for Richard but also a daunting one, carrying with it the awesome responsibility for the security of England & Wales. Stability and continuity were the priorities for the government with a smooth transition from one king to another. Richard’s aims seem to have been to restore the balance of power between his brother’s supporters and the Woodville family, which balance had suddenly been tipped in favour of the latter. He did this by dismantling the basis of Woodville power by confiscating land and property, not necessarily legally, in the name of the king, using his own power as Protector. He also transferred some of the official roles from Woodville supporters to his own tried and trusted men, mostly from the North.

At some point he became aware of two important pieces of information. Bishop Stillington informed him that his brother Edward had been secretly married before he married Elizabeth Woodville and consequently all their children were illegitimate and so Edward V was ineligible to be king.

Secondly, that Hastings had been in touch with the Queen in sanctuary with the intention of supporting her and her children against Richard. The latter information may have been obtained from a go-between, Jane Shore, who had been a mistress to all three of Edward IV, Dorset and Hastings and was well known to the Queen. Jane seems to have been captured and confessed to her role as messenger for which she was imprisoned.

On 10th June Richard wrote to York to send troops to support him against a possible Woodville military coup and from then on he controlled events in London.

You can read ‘What was Richard’s Claim to the throne’ on this website.

After the Coronation, during the Royal Progress, Richard and Buckingham parted company at Gloucester on 2nd August. There were two clear months when Richard was away from the south of England and the plotters could take advantage of this time to plan their rebellion.

The Princes in the Tower (age 12 and 9)

We simply do not know what happened to them. Once they had separately entered the Tower, in May and June, they faded from history after July and played no further part in political affairs. By the end of 1483 they were politically neutralised. The Buckingham Rebellion in October, begun as an attempt to restore Edward V, changed its aim into placing Henry Tudor on the throne. Members of the Richard III Society continue to carry out research into the fate of the two boys.

Rumours of their death were circulating England in late Summer and may have disheartened loyal Yorkists, but emboldened former Lancastrians and stirred both camps to think of revenge against Richard, the assumed author of their deaths.

The Queen’s decision to release her younger son from sanctuary to Richard’s protection and thence to the Tower to join his brother, ostensibly for the Coronation, is not easily explained. She was put under a lot of pressure by Richard, through the Archbishop of Canterbury who negotiated with her in person. She may have feared that Richard would ignore the convention of sanctuary and remove her and all her children by force. She may have believed assurances that neither of her sons would come to any harm. But three days after the extra-judicial execution of Hastings, on 16th June she let her younger son go and never saw him again as far as we know.

Sometime during the following month or two she came to an agreement with Margaret Beaufort that her eldest daughter Elizabeth would marry Henry Tudor, which suggests that she supported Tudor’s bid for the throne ahead of her own sons, either because she believed them to be dead or accepted that they were legally illegitimate.

Many years later In her Will she used a form of words which was ambiguous: ‘any of my children’ and ‘all the aforesaid my children’ referring by name only to her eldest child, Elizabeth, by then the Queen.

John Morton (age early 60’s)

He was both a gifted lawyer as well as a priest, Holy Orders being a useful step to advancement in the 15th century. He was in the employ of Henry VI until the massacre at Towton after which he was arrested. He escaped and joined Queen Margaret in France from where he joined her invasion which came to a full stop at Tewkesbury (May 1471). 

He then swapped sides and under Edward IV was appointed to high legal office and to the Bishopric of Ely. He was also a member of the King’s Council which morphed (illegally) into that for Edward V immediately after Edward IV’s death. 

He appears to have sided with the Queen and the Woodville faction in the Council and consequently was arrested on the day that Hastings was executed. Rather than being executed for treasonous intentions, he was placed under house arrest in Brecknock (Brecon) Castle at the request  of the Duke of Buckingham’s which turned out to be very convenient for planning the forthcoming rebellion.

Later, under Henry VII his career became stratospheric with appointments as Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Chancellor and then a Cardinal.

Morton may have been a chief source for much of Sir Thomas More’s Life of Richard III which in turn was used by Shakespeare to create an impression of Richard as a physical and psychological monster.

William Lord, Hastings (age about 52)

Hastings had been an intensely loyal supporter of Edward IV. They fought together at Barnet (April 1471) and at Tewkesbury (May 1471) which established Edward securely on the throne till his death. They even shared a mistress (Jane Shore). Hastings was Lord Chamberlain and a senior member of the King’s Council up to, and after, Edward’s death.

At early Council meetings he stuck out for Richard to be made Protector and for Edward V to be escorted from Ludlow to Westminster with a smaller number of armed men than the Woodville faction were asking for (2,000). He threatened to leave England and go to Calais if he was over-ruled so he was initially delighted at how events turned out on the arrival of Edward V with Richard on 4th May.

Hastings perhaps assumed that, with Richard as Protector for maybe four years, Edward V would then be crowned and the continuity of the Yorkist dynasty assured. Something went badly wrong to upset this plan over the next 40 days.  Richard clearly believed that Hastings had moved into the Woodville camp when on 13th June he ordered his arrest and summary execution.

That information may have come from Jane Shore, who was currently sleeping with Hastings, having transferred her affections from Dorset, and was acting as a go-between with the Queen in sanctuary. A missing piece of information is why Hastings apparently changed his allegiance. Was this because the revelation by Bishop Stillington had been shared with the Council? The allegation of a pre-contract was made public nine days later, so perhaps the information had been discussed in Council for several days and enquires were being made with the Queen about what she knew of the matter. We just do not know.

Hastings had very extensive land and property and some of this was transferred to Buckingham. Richard took care to make provision for Hasting’s widow rather than leave her destitute.

Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset (age about 28)

The older of Elizabeth Woodville’s two sons from her first husband.

He was given a meteoric rise through the aristocracy by Edward IV as a mark of favour to the Queen. By the age of twenty he was Marquess of Dorset and a member of the king’s Council.  This status placed him below only a Duke so he was able, with his mother, to strongly influence the Council after Edward IV’s death.

One decision made by them was the appointment of the Queen’s brother, Thomas’ uncle, Sir Edward Woodville, as Admiral of the fleet, sending him to sea with much of the royal treasure, the remainder of which, from the Tower of London, was divided between the Queen and Dorset.

Another decision was to request the Queen’s brother, Anthony, Earl Rivers, and her younger son Sir Richard Grey, to hasten from Ludlow to Westminster with the new King, Edward V for an early Coronation.

In urging these decisions on the Council Thomas Grey was acting beyond his powers: the King’s Council had no legal standing after the king had died and would not have until either a new king or a Protector appointed a new Council. He and his mother took the view that they were acting in the name of the new king.

Once Richard of Gloucester had taken charge of Edward V, Dorset quickly disappeared from the scene on the same day that his mother took her daughters into sanctuary (1st May).

Thomas became involved in the Buckingham rebellion at a distance and avoided capture and almost certain execution. He joined Henry Tudor in Brittany and at some point decided to return to Richard but was prevented from doing so. He also excused himself from Henry’s invasion leading to Bosworth and was never fully trusted again.

Reginald (Reynold) Bray (age early 40’s)

A trusted member of the household of Margaret Beaufort and Thomas Stanley who travelled extensively, managing their estates and acting as a messenger to Henry Tudor. He acted as go-between for Margaret and Bishop Morton with Buckingham. In the aftermath of this rebellion he was charged with treason but pardoned by Richard III only to repeat his role for the 1485 invasion by Henry Tudor. Henry VII rewarded him with well-paid crown appointments and a knighthood. 

Sir Thomas Stanley (aged about 47)

In a difficult position as the (platonic) husband of Henry Tudor’s mother and a member of the King’s Council under Edward IV and Edward V. On 13th  June he was arrested along with Hastings and Morton but soon released. He continued to tread a fine line between loyalty between Richard and Margaret his wife. If not actively supporting Richard during this rebellion, he at least remained neutral, which must have made for interesting discussions, or silences, at home. You can read elsewhere of how he managed this dilemma at Bosworth.

The Council

The king’s Council was a forerunner of today’s Privy Council, which consisted of trusted nobles, lawyers, prelates and other worthies to advise the king on matters of policy.

By custom, when a king died, the Council was dissolved until the new king appointed his own Council. Very much like a change of government in the UK today when a new Prime Minster selects Cabinet Ministers.

In 1483 there was a time delay of three and a half weeks between the death of Edward IV on 9th April and the arrival of Edward V into Westminster on 4th May. During that time several decisions were made without full authority and without consulting Richard as the former king’s most senior male relative. There was no agreement to await the arrival of Richard before making strategic decisions.

The Council, dominated by the Queen and her oldest son, the Marquess of Dorset, opted for an early Coronation on May 4th. Another decision was to appoint Sir Edward Woodville Admiral of the fleet and send him out to sea, ostensibly to guard the southern coast from invasion.

Anthony, 2nd Earl Rivers, who had physical charge of the new king in Ludlow, chose to delay departure until the last possible day, 25th April, to reach London just in time for the planned Coronation on 4th May. 

Once Richard had taken control of Edward V on 30th April and the news reached London on 1st May, the Queen and Dorset abandoned the Council leaving a power vacuum, to be filled when Richard arrived in person with the king on 4th May. 

Henry Tudor (age about 26)

He was kept in touch with events by his mother as far as distance and weather in the Channel permitted. His role, funded by his mother and the Duke of Brittany, was to bring fifteen ships with 5,000 armed men, to land on the south coast

Storms in the English Channel delayed his departure until the very end of October and also threw him off course. Only two of his ships made it across the Channel. As he was approaching  Poole in Dorset, he found armed men awaiting him and declined their invitation to land. At Plymouth, still off-shore, he learned of the failure of the rebellion, and turned back for Brittany. 

The Go-Betweens

With Elizabeth Woodville in sanctuary and access to her restricted, it was necessary for someone to take messages who would not arouse Richard’s suspicion. Initially this seems to have been Jane Shore, but she was arrested and taken out of commission. Other messengers could have been priests or physicians such as Margaret’s Dr Cearleon, who would have had ready access.

Reginald Bray was the chief messenger between Margaret Beaufort and John Morton, also Buckingham and presumably other co-conspirators in the south of England.

Communications between London, York, Stoney Stratford and Ludlow.

The speed of communication, unlike today, was limited to the speed of a galloping horse and the provision of fresh horses at staging posts across the country. Royal messengers had priority over all other travellers for the best horses. But even a thoroughbred racehorse cannot sustain a gallop for long and the hardier breeds of the 15th century would have been used to a more sedate pace.

Taking Westminster as a starting point, distances to centres of action and time taken for a round trip at 50 miles per day:

JourneyDistance direct line/milesRound trip/days
London-York-London4008
London-Ludlow-London2505
York-Ludlow-York2605
Stoney Stratford-London501 (one way)

For a large group of horsemen, such as Edward V’s escort and Richard’s escort, the time taken would roughly have doubled. We know that Edward’s journey from Ludlow to London took ten days. Richard’s slightly longer journey took about the same number of days but he was moving with urgency to meet the young king and then took two days to travel to London with cart loads of weapons and armour allegedly confiscated from Woodville forces.

The Weather

October 1483 was a time of atrocious weather in the south-west of England. The River Severn was so flooded and bridges destroyed that Buckingham could not get his army across into England.

Storms in the English Channel delayed Henry Tudor’s departure from Brittany until the rebellion was all but over. 

To Richard the bad weather may have seemed like the hand of God intervening to scatter his enemies.

Aftermath

Buckingham was captured and executed in Salisbury on 2 November without having taken part in any armed conflict.

Margaret Beaufort and over a hundred other nobles and gentry were listed in Acts of Attainder at Richard’s parliament the following January. Only ten, all senior plotters, were executed, not including Margaret.

Many of the survivors made their way to join Henry Tudor and took part in the final rebellion against Richard (August 1485). 

Richard was relatively secure on the throne for the next two years but always feared the revival of Henry Tudor and tried several times without success to have him extradited to Engand.

Timeline of events

A full itinerary of Richard III during his reign can be found here.

Further reading

The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-185 Rhoda Edwards (Richard III Society, 1983)

Richard III: A Study in Service, Rosemary Horrox (CUP, 1999) Chapter 3

Richard the Third,  Paul Murray Kendall (W.W. Norton & Co., 1956) Book Two, Part Two, chapter III.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, online subscription)

Matthew Lewis: Why is it called Buckingham’s Rebellion?

Louise Gill: Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Sutton, 1999)

IWF